On June 29, 1996, the Libyan regime of Moammar al-Qaddafi put down a prison revolt with deadly force, killing as many as 1,200 detainees in cold blood with grenades and machine guns. Their bodies have never been found, and the Libyan government has never fully admitted the massacre at Abu Salim Prison, despite the best efforts of witnesses and human rights organizations to document it in grim detail.
Fifteen years later, relatives of the victims are still demanding justice. On Feb. 15, 2 days ahead of a planned nationwide day of protests, the Libyan regime arrested Fatih Tarbel, an advocate for the Abu Salim families -- sparking outraged demonstrations in the coastal city of Benghazi. The BBC says the crowd was about 2,000 people, and activists on Twitter claim that at least 2 people have died.
It's not easy to report in Libya, and details of the protests remain sketchy and hard to confirm. It hasn't helped that some news organizations, such as the Associated Press, have confused what are doubtless orchestrated pro-Qaddafi protests with the genuine outpouring of anger against one of the world's most odious regimes (at one point, Qaddafi himself even said he might demonstrate against the prime minister).
While it's not clear how far the unrest might spread, the mere fact that people are lifting up their heads in a brutal police state like Libya is an incredible testament to human courage. And the swift fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in next-door Tunisia is a reminder that even the toughest regimes can prove surprisingly brittle once that mantle of fear is lifted.
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